29 years
Community Service
News Magazine
Operated by couple Eddie Flores and Orquidia Valenzuela
News and Views of the
Filipino Community Worldwide

By Rene Calalang
April 9, 2018


I could still very vividly remember that being accepted on the Apprenticeship Program was not an easy one – for we had to pass a very difficult written entrance examination. What made it extra difficult was we had to compete against many college and university graduates, many of which were graduate engineers, with some who had already passed the Board Examination, and yet the only educational requirement was that applicants must be a high school graduate.

After passing the entrance test, as well as the physical examination, we had to choose the trade we would be trained and specialized in, provided there were still some opening left. I chose Machine Shop, which was under the Mechanical Machinery Group, because I knew that I was mechanically inclined, and would do best in this field.

Our training would be a combination of practical as well as classroom training.

For the technical and on the job training, it was held in the massive shop named Shop-31, a building that houses all kind of machines – lathe, milling, drilling, boring, grinding, shaper – machines that are normally found in a machine shop. We were then, as part of the program, assigned in a specific section, where, under the guidance of a competent journeyman we were taught and mentored on how to use those precision machines within a specific number of hours.

For the classroom training, we were taught not only the theories of our chosen trade, but also some engineering subjects like Mathematics, Physics, Drafting and English – subjects that were so important because they would be needed when, after the completion of the four year program, we decided to seek higher position and better paying job within the military base.

I finished my training in 1971, but left in the same year to migrate to Canada (where one year after my arrival, I would be attending Ryerson Polytechnic Institute (now Ryerson University) and study and graduated with a degree in Mechanical Engineering).

Here is my account of my first trip which, because of the thought that shopping in the Duty Free Shop is always the best way the best way to shop, my companions were more interested in shopping than in exploring the sprawling Freeport. But visiting my old place of training was an opportunity, I knew, I cannot let go.

Olongapo City is quieter now. Gone were the many clubs where US sailors and marines used to frequent and had a good time. Gone too were the many entertainers employed by those clubs to give those sailors and marines temporary companionship.

Travelling through Rizal Avenue, and close to the intersection I couldn’t remember, but couldn’t forget the place, I was, unknown to my companions, was looking for a club named Acapulco, as in this club, I met a beautiful lady named Tammy, who was about five years my senior, but would be instrumental in giving me my second baptism, if you know what I mean. I didn’t see the club, but deep in my heart, I just wish everything went well with her.

Soon, we were crossing the bridge that separates Subic Bay from the City of Olongapo. Looking down from the bridge, I saw the same pitiful scenery as if it were those years when Olongapo City was my home – that of shirtless children riding on a wooden banca waiting for some kind soul to throw some coins into the water, who then would dive into the water and look for that life-saving coins.

“What a pity,” I told my wife.

“What do you mean?” she answered.

“Look at those kids,” I said while pointing to the children on the drainage channel. “They should be attending school.”

“Don’t worry. If we win fifty million dollars in Lotto Max, we will adopt some of them,” my wife jokingly said.

Soon we were at the entrance of the sprawling Freeport.

Welcome to SUBIC BAY FREEPORT, said the giant sign as if welcoming us.

Gone at the gate were US Marine guards, who in their khaki uniform were a symbol of authority.

Since I still remember how to reach SRF (Ship Repair Facility), I gave instructions to our driver which road to take. Driving inside was totally different from driving outside especially in many towns and cities in our country, as here all the traffic rules and regulations must be followed.

We passed by the Spanish Gate, that monument that will always remind everyone that Subic Bay was once a Spanish Military Base, only a lot smaller before it became a US Military Base.

We reached Alava Pier, that massive pier with deep water, where ships of the mighty US Navy like the aircraft carrier, destroyers, submarines, mine sweepers used to dock, and still is, but in a lot less frequency now.

We turned left to the street parallel to the pier and that led us to SRF (Ship Repair Facility). We turned left again on another street and from a distance of about one hundred meters, I could see Shop 31. I told our driver to park at the first available parking spot he could find, which he did. And there we were, not too far from the former Mechanical-Machinery Group Building i.e. the former Shop 31 for machine shop and the former Shop 38 for the machinist marines (those who repaired machines like diesel engines, ordnance, refrigeration and air conditioning unit, hydraulic equipment, etc.)

I got out of the van with my nephew in tow. With roving eyes, I look around the area. “Not much had changed in this part of the former SRF,” I told myself.

As I expected, Shop 31, my alma mater is still there proudly standing, as its structural steel construction was so strong that even the anger of nature like the explosion of Mt. Pinatubo could not destroy it. Inside, as I peeked at the opened door, the machineries and the tenant are different now, but my memories of her will always remain.

As because of time, and most likely the hassle involved, I did not even try to visit inside. For some future memories, I just asked my nephew to take some pictures of me with the front of the building in the background.

At that moment, that’s all what I wanted to see, as because I was outnumbered, the rest of the day would be spent shopping. But deep in my heart, I knew I would one day come back to explore more this once mighty military base.


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